OMBRE SALTED CARAMEL FLAN POPSICLES
IN A COOK’S UNIVERSE, THE BAKER’S REALM IS A MYSTICAL AND DANGEROUS WORLD
Recently, someone asked me what’s the typical number of trials I have to go through before arriving on a satisfying recipe. And to that I said, “Two, I guess? Most likely?”. Well… in all honesty, I didn’t mean to lie. I just forgot to ask, if they were asking the cook? Or the baker?
I’m definitely more cook than a baker. And as a more-cook, relatively speaking, I have a more optimistic repertoire of savoury things where I have demonstrated slightly more competence in not screwing up. But in reality, if I were to take into account of the other side of the fence as well, the wild and parched, the untamed and unpredictable, the land of where the sweet things are… then my friend, I don’t think I have hairs enough to count my failures. In a cook’s universe, the realm of the bakers is a mystical and dangerous world, governed by a whole different set of laws and physics and creatures who look beautifully from afar like a herd of pink unicorns, but once approached, will vaporize into a cloud of black smokes and swallow my expectations in whole. It is scary. And it is real. And it is a place, unless guided by other wizards specializing in this black magic, that I do not like to enter lightly.
But sometimes the universe, especially my universe, is not perfect. Sometimes there’s no precedent, or magic potion to follow for what I wanted to create, or more accurately, re-create. For this instance, a childhood treat that Jason and I practically grew up with and hold dearly in our heart, the caramel flan popsicle (or as they called it in Taiwan, “pudding popsicle”) that we used to be able to buy in almost every convenient stores, but mysteriously vanished in the past decade. And in times like these, I just had to hood up, bid the loved ones farewell, climbed over the fence, into the woods, and hoped that something, anything, would make it back in one piece.
Well, it didn’t.
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Since I recently got my freezer repaired from a place similar to CPL Repair Company (https:www.GardnerApplianceFix.com) I thought it was time to make these long-time craved creations. I didn’t want to waste any time because the first time I went to make these was the time the freezer broke! So here is the breakdown of my attempts at making OMBRE SALTED CARAMEL FLAN POPSICLES.
The first attempt, it got decapitated. Some of the caramel-layers and the custard-layers, both liquid and theoretically bindable matters that coexist on this Earth, for fuck sake, were acting up like kindergarteners and apparently, refused to hold hands. Now, more than I would like to admit, that typically when it comes to the sweet stuffs, this is where the cook threw the flags and abandon ships. But as Jason and I were “cleaning up the scraps”, we were both blown away by how closely to our memories, and perhaps exceedingly good these broken popsicles tasted. The childhood “pudding popsicles” were more… well, child-like, with monotoned flavours and sweetness that pleased a greater demographic. Whereas my failed popsicles were boosted by the added saltiness and a darker and deeper caramel, with a slight and complex (for the lack of better words) bitterness that made it addictively interesting. So, I decided to give it another go.
For reasons beyond me, perhaps because I was hoping that nature would correct itself as it almost never does post the arrival of Homo Sapiens, I did it exactly the same way on my second trial just to prove successfully that the first method were, without the shadow of a doubt, wrong again. Then, half way into my third trial, running out of gelatin for the caramel, I thought no big deal, that the popsicle would set anyways as how God intended for all things inside a freezer, no? Wrong. Again. Then for the fourth trial, finally listening to the good advice of the Instagram community, I switched the position of the salted caramel-layer from the bottom of the mold to the top, reassured that this time, finally, my two-layered popsicle was to come out triumphantly in one piece. Wrong. Again.
I suspect that only a chemistry nerd with a PHD in the science of dairy and sugar, could predict that the higher density and thus heavier caramel-layer… well, would sank right through the lake of custard and practically disappeared from the surface as soon as it was poured in, leaving me, the cook, in a wordless despair and visions slowing zoning out of focus… Now, could we, shall we, call it in for the last time, for god’s sake, wrong period? Or wait… was it?
The next morning, with little to no hope, I pulled out the most accidentally beautiful popsicles I have yet to make. Yes, the salted caramel-layer sank, and no, my originally intended two-layered popsicle did not happen. But, something better did. Instead of two separate entities, the custard and caramel tangled in a motion of twirling colors, from opaque pastel yellow to slightly translucent and deep, rich amber. Each bite of the sweet and vanilla frozen custard was accompanied by fifty shades of the dark, salted and complicated bitterness of the caramel, the best kind of romance, and they sang together like the sweetest story a cook could ever hope to bring back from an adventure to the other side.
So if you were more-cook as well, and find yourself longing timidly for the beautiful creatures looming just beyond the fence, do not lose hope. Just believe that – but be very careful how much you believe it – that miracles do happen.
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 1/4 cup (304 grams) whole milk
- 3 tbsp (21 grams) cornstarch
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp (190 grams) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 1/2 cup (320 grams) heavy cream
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) water
- 2 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin powder
- 1/3 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup (160 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp (30 grams) water
- 1/4 cup (53 grams) heavy cream
- Whisk egg yolks, whole milk and cornstarch together in a large pot until absolutely lump-free and smooth. Set over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until you feel the mixture at the bottom of the pot is starting to thicken. Remove from the heat and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds, during which the residual heat will continue to cook/thicken the mixture, and you should have a consistency that resembles mayonnaise. Then return to the heat for 10 more seconds, whisking constantly until it starts to bubble. The custard will get lumpy once it cools down, so while still hot, whisk in the sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream and vanilla extract.
- Divide the custard into popsicle-molds, filling them about 75~80% full, leaving rooms for the caramel layer. I find it the easiest to transfer the custard into an easy-to-pour container for this task (like a measuring cup or a stainless steel milk jug), but you can do it however you like. Set aside.
- In a small pot, sprinkle the gelatin powder over 1/4 cup of water, then add salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat for a couple min, stirring occasionally, until the gelatin has fully melted, then set aside. In another larger pot, combine granulated sugar and 2 tbsp of water, and set over medium heat. Cook for 5~6 min, swirling the pot gently and occasionally but do not stir, until the sugar turns into a medium-golden color. Remove from the heat, and continue to slowly swirl the pot for another 30~40 seconds. The color of the caramel will darken to a deep amber color with the residual heat (it should be almost the darkest color on this color wheel). Now add the heavy cream, which will bubble up quite actively. Keep swirling the pot gently until the bubbling subsides slightly, then add the gelatin water. Return to low heat, and stir until the caramel has re-melted and evenly combined.
- Fill the caramel into the popsicle-molds all the way to the top. Again, I find it the easiest to transfer the caramel into an easy-to-pour container for this task, but you can do it however you like. The caramel will slowly sink through the custard (because it's denser and heavier), and settle on the bottom of the mold, creating a gradient of color. The mixture is too loose right now to hold the wooden handles, so freeze for 2 hours, then insert the wooden handles. Then freeze for at least 12 hours until hardened.
The caramel layer will not set without gelatin, because of its high sugar-content.
MaryJune 29, 2015 at 10:27 PM
Those look amazing! And those are some of the best looking popsicle molds I’ve seen. I’ve been on the hunt for good alternatives to plastic ones are those all metal?
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 29, 2015 at 11:00 PM
Mary, I bought them in China… Not sure if they are available elsewhere
JessicaJune 29, 2015 at 10:40 PM
I’ve been waiting for these ever since the first decapitated insta! Beautiful!
ConnieJune 29, 2015 at 11:33 PM
I was going to ask about the molds, too! Ice pops look great. Caramel flan is one of my favorite desserts.
June @ How to Philosophize with CakeJune 29, 2015 at 11:33 PM
I have the opposite problem! Cooking, for me, is so intimidating…I hardly ever cook complicated dishes, like the ones you see on food blogs (like yours!). So I can relate!
These popsicles look incredible, love the salted caramel :)
Carol HartJune 29, 2015 at 11:34 PM
Well bless your heart for going through all of this to make what looks like a delicious popsicle that I’ll have to try to make. Question – where did you get those molds? Who makes them? I like that they are individual.
Daphne S.June 30, 2015 at 12:54 AM
My question is: What did you do with the rest of that can of leftover sweetened condensed milk?? I bet you ate it didn’t you! With a spoon!! That stuff is sooo good whoever invented it should have won the Nobel prize!
AlisonJune 30, 2015 at 11:26 AM
Make a fabulous Thai Iced Coffee…..yum, best way I know to use up leftover SCM!
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 30, 2015 at 12:53 PM
Rebecca@Figs and PigsJune 30, 2015 at 1:34 AM
Just look at these what a beautiful effect the caramel has given and I cant even imagine how good they must taste.
shinJune 30, 2015 at 1:48 AM
ah ha! 布丁雪糕!! i love it too~! but your version looks way better… perfect for summer!
stephanieJune 30, 2015 at 2:17 AM
i love your commitment to food. food is lucky to have you :D
Rachel EmmerichJune 30, 2015 at 2:20 AM
You wouldn’t be able to tell me how to make these without gelatin, would you? I’ve never seen a caramel recipe that requires it before. I am a vegetarian so I don’t eat it.
mandy@ladyandpupsJune 30, 2015 at 12:54 PM
Rachel, just like what Ruby said at the bottom, I would try agar agar first (plant based). The high sugar content of the caramel prevents it from setting in the freezer.
Alanna @ One Tough CookieJune 30, 2015 at 2:50 AM
These look absolutely gorgeous and I’m sure they taste just as lovely! I find that if my popsicle mixture is too soft, I’ll use a clothespin balanced on top of the mold to pin the stick in place. It’s a little more awkward, but I’m the type who would completely forget to insert the sticks after two hours, so it helps me avoid some of the numbed-finger-handheld popsicle disasters of years past.
JovanaJune 30, 2015 at 4:56 AM
I was falling asleep for my afternoon power nap – and read this blog post. I had closed pinterest and literally dreamt about this ice-cream. I woke up and told my husband about this wonderful ice-cream I wanted to make but wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or if I had actually seen it.
Thankfully, I spotted it on foodgawker. Definitely going to make this when I’m done fasting (I’m Orthodox) :)
RubyJune 30, 2015 at 4:57 AM
@rachel maybe you can try agar agar- it’s derived from algae and is a vegetarian substitute for gelatin :)
Valentina @HortusJune 30, 2015 at 7:14 PM
Once again, you amaze me. I actually tried making simple popsicles, but as physics go they obviously were no more than a block of ice. Corn starch & eggs probably do the trick into making things looser – tried once doing the same things with meringue and everything was perfect.
@Rachel: definitely try agar! I have a vegetarian blog and I subbed gelatin in all forms with agar. It’s awesome, but you’ll probably need a veeery small amount. for this purpose, I’d say 0.5 grams, which is probably 1/8 tsp. in this case, you need a thickener for the caramel, as sugar melts in a cold/freezing environment and you’d find yourself with runny caramel popsicle all over the place.
tunieJuly 1, 2015 at 12:37 AM
excellent story, thank you. looks beyond delicious!
AlannaJuly 1, 2015 at 1:21 AM
Good lord those are the most beautiful pops! My more-baker-than-cook self devoured this entire post. Also, your popsicle molds WIN!
BiancaJuly 1, 2015 at 4:31 AM
Could you share who makes your white plates with the black rim please?
mandy@ladyandpupsJuly 1, 2015 at 1:36 PM
Bianca, I bought it in China! It’s a local brand in Chinese :)
KellyJuly 1, 2015 at 9:34 AM
I love you blog and your popsicle recipes! :) Question though, how do you wrap your popsicles? I’ve only ever used Saran Wrap but they kind of reshape the popsicles once they refreeze after taking them out of the molds. I’d love any suggestions!
mandy@ladyandpupsJuly 1, 2015 at 12:23 PM
Kelly, I have the same problem, too. Sometimes if I didn’t need the molds, I just leave the popsicles in them. But I’m thinking about trying parchment or wax papers to wrap them in next time.
Charlie (Chockywoky)July 1, 2015 at 11:01 PM
Oh, you genius, you. How about silicon popsicle moulds? You can just flip them out easily.
Jennifer @ The Foodie PatootieJuly 2, 2015 at 1:41 AM
Long time reader, first time commenter! I just have to say how wonderful these looks and how excited I am to try the recipe!
Renee KempsJuly 4, 2015 at 3:59 AM
WHOA. I love every little thing about this post. The photos (so pretty!!), the recipe, you not giving up, the childhood memories. It’s just amazing..
BevJuly 6, 2015 at 1:10 AM
Please, keep me up to date about your blog by eMail.
Lindsey @ a honey blossomJuly 6, 2015 at 6:51 AM
I love this idea! They sound amazing, and the ombre is beautiful.
SanAugust 31, 2015 at 6:32 PM
Could you please share where to find these popsicle molds? They are nowhere to be found around here. Where I live we only have plastic ones.
mandy@ladyandpupsSeptember 1, 2015 at 12:23 AM
San, I bought them online in China. I don’t think they r available else where. I’ve seen metal ones on Food52’s online shop.
Eden PassanteSeptember 9, 2016 at 12:37 AM
Wow! These look so good! What a great idea!
MeredithAugust 25, 2017 at 10:13 PM
I made this recipe the other day and it was delicious, but I have to admit the caramel part was a pain in the butt. The custard part went smoothly, but in trying to make the caramel, the sugar kept crystalizing in the pot and I had to redissolve it twice, and ended up finally googling ways to keep it from crystalizing. The internet’s advice was to heat the water/sugar mix VERY slowly, and basically not even swirl the pot at all, but even doing that the sugar eventually crystalized. Google then suggested adding a bit of corn syrup to keep the crystallization at bay, but I don’t keep corn syrup in the house, so I ended up adding a very small bit of lemon juice (another suggestion). It did eventually turn into caramel syrup but it took me probably an hour and a half constantly tending to the stove just for the caramel part. The caramel sauce by itself tasted kind of bitter, and I’m not sure if it was just a little burned or if the lemon juice acidity contributed to that. But, in the end, the popsicles tasted good and had a nice texture. And the people who ate them all genuinely loved them.